Rush frontman and bassist Geddy Lee, author of the excellent new autobiography My Effin’ Life, talks about many things in his new Rolling Stone Music Now interview, from his childhood as the son of two Holocaust survivors to his earliest musical influences (including the Hollies, Motown hits, Cream and Rhinoceros) to the ups and downs of his band’s synth period. But Rush fans will be most anxious to hear Lee’s extended thoughts on the possible future of his work with guitarist Alex Lifeson in the wake of Neil Peart‘s death in 2020. Here’s that segment of the interview with Lee, who’s currently on a book tour of theaters featuring surprise interviewers in every city — Paul Rudd was the debut guest in New York this week. To hear the full interview, go here for the podcast provider of your choice, listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, or just press play below.
You’ve said the Taylor Hawkins tribute performances were, in a way, almost like the end of your shiva for Neil.
Yeah, I didn’t realize at the time. It was only in retrospect because I was so off at the L.A. show. I wasn’t myself. At the London show, the Wembley show, I was celebratory. I was honoring Taylor at the same time I was playing, again, songs I loved, and playing with new people. The atmosphere at that gig was just magic. There was so much love. I know it sounds corny, but there really was so much love in that building at Wembley. It was the most special gig I think I’ve ever done in my life, in that regard. Every artist, even artists I didn’t know, was there for the same reason. There was no ego, no hint of competitiveness. And I found it really rejuvenating. It filled me up. I realized, I’ve missed this. I miss playing. I love being in this atmosphere where every musician is rooting for the other musician.
But when I got to L.A., I didn’t feel the same. There was something about being in that building that was really disturbing me, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. I couldn’t figure it out until I walked on stage and realized that this was returning to the scene of the crime.
The last Rush show with Neil in 2015.
Yeah. And it all fell together and I realized, OK, this is the end of this period for me. The grief has to end, and something else has to replace it. What do you replace it with? Remembrance, respect, and homage.
So Paul McCartney came up to you and congratulated you and said you should get back on the road?
Dave [Grohl] was so sweet. He comes up to us at rehearsal and he goes, “Paul McCartney’s up next to rehearse, and he’s outside, and he said to me, ‘Dave, I’ve never met anyone from Rush before.’”
And I said, “I’ve never met him! Bring him in, please.” And he came in. He’s just a very lovely man. A very positive person.
Did you get the sense that he knew your music?
No, but I got the sense he knew who we were and had heard about us. He had never listened to us. So at the show, he was there. He watched the set. I think he was really curious because people probably had mentioned us to him.
But after the show, he was incredible. He was so warm and embracing and positive. He came and sat and drank with us. We all got plastered together. And he was very emphatic, talking about, “You know what Ringo always says: ‘It’s what we do.’” And I said, “Talk to Al, because he’s the stubborn one.” And so he was lecturing Al about how great it is to tour. “You have to do it, man. You have to get back out there, man.” And Alex said something like, “I’ll do it, if you’ll be our manager.” “I’ll manage you, mate!” It was really fun, really funny, but he had a point. That’s the way he looks at life. He’s ageless because he really, truly believes he was born to do this. That’s what you do. And you just do it. You don’t question it. And I think we all sometimes forget that.
What is it with Al? I know he had those stomach issues and he had another surgery for it, right?
Is his stubbornness based around that?
No. He has some health issues, he has arthritis as well. It’s harder for him to reproduce those solos in the way that he wants to. But he was also never super happy in the last few tours on the road. I think that’s why he played so much golf, because he gets bored so quickly. For me, I would hole up in my room and I would work on photo albums, like I would play with my bird photography.
So I was occupied. I’m quite happy because I knew that I had to stay quiet. I couldn’t talk. So all day long I would work on my photo books and my photography. And in the evening I would meet Al after he’s played 14 rounds of golf. And we would have dinner and drink too much wine. And then the next day was gig day. But I think being away and touring is more difficult for him to be happy. So that’s a stumbling block and at this stage of his life, considering that he has some concerns about his health, it’s very hard for him to get his head around the idea of doing a tour, you know. So I just keep working on him.
You said something I thought was interesting, which is that it’s conceivable to you that you could go out and call yourselves Rush.
I don’t know if that’s 100 percent true. I don’t know how comfortable we would be doing that, calling ourselves Rush, and it’s all speculation because… Honestly, it’s unlikely to happen. That’s a conversation for probably another time, but we might not be super comfortable. But we could always call ourselves some other stupid name, or Rash. [Laughs.]
Lee and Lifeson sounds nice.
“Lee and Lifeson Play the Songs of Rush.” That really sounds like an old-fart Eighties band.
Nonetheless, that sounds like sold-out arenas to me. I guess I would say, it would be an opportunity perhaps to finally, theoretically get a keyboard player.
And break all the rules you’d set out for yourself.
Yeah, I think if we were to do it again, for sure, it wouldn’t be just a three-piece because we’d have to find a way to make it more fun, less work, and pay some acknowledgement to the fact that we are a little bit older now.
It would be a lot of pressure to put one drummer on that stage. It could be a drummer and a percussionist. It could be two drummers. There are a lot of things you could try to do to take the pressure off whoever that person is.
Brian, there are endless possibilities. I agree. It’s all hypothetical.
And then how about two other things: How about new music from you and Alex in some form , whether with or without a tour — and if not, how about a solo album?
Both of those things are possible. I read recently where I’m planning to do another solo album. I’ve never said I’m planning to do another solo album! I haven’t planned anything. I’m planning to survive this book tour, and then I’m planning to go on a holiday with my wife. Beyond that, I don’t have anything planned. Would I like to write some more music? Now, yes, I would. I am ready for that. Does Alex want to write some more music with me? Yes, he does. He’s made that very clear. And that’s something I will try to do with him over the coming year. Would I like to write some songs on my own? Yes, I would. Again, it’s something I would like to try over the coming year. And that’s all I know. That’s all I’ve planned. Nothing’s in the works, but this glorious thing of possibility exists.
I think Al and I owe it to each other to have a serious sit-down and play together and see what happens, and maybe all this hypothetical crap that we talked about…. Maybe that’ll disappear if we get really excited or maybe it won’t, but I’m not banking on it, and Rush fans certainly should not bank on it. There’s always hope.
Are your chops up? Have you been playing?
My chops are not up right now. I’m sorry to admit that. I’ve been talking — I’ve been using this to talk, this throat of mine — and I have not been playing enough, and I’m sad to say that my fingers are getting soft. But that’s going to change.
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